Friday, 17 December 2010

The leather jacket and other summer fashions*


The Leather Jacket is just one of the plants that surprises us by flowering in mid-summer (and not being a fish or piece of clothing).

It’s an interesting plant, once called Barklya syringifolia but now called Bauhinia syringifolia – i.e. in the same genus as the Hong Kong Orchid Tree. We can call it the Leather Jacket, which I presume refers to the bark which is a rough greyish brown colour in the mature tree.

The medium-sized tree (to about 18 m tall) has leaves a little like the Hollywood or Diamond Leaf Pittosporum (Auranticarpa rhombifolia) which is sometimes planted as street tree around Sydney, but the leaves of the Leather Jacket have seven distinct nerves rising up from the base of the leaves.

The flowers are the colour of the Diamond Leaf Pittosporum fruit, bright orange, and in brushes to 10 cm or so long. So nothing like that plant really, but from a distance they could be confused.

Leather Jacket grows naturally in Queensland rainforests and at one time apparently as far south as northern New South Wales. There is only one historical record from NSW, undated and from near the Richmond River, and it was recorded by Joseph Maiden as occurring in this State in 1904. It’s now grown in gardens in both New South Wales and Queensland.

This is just one of the many plants in flower at this time of year. Another worth seeing is the South African Gardenia thunbergia near the Levi Fountain, or of course hydrangeas and very soon lotus in the pond near the restaurant.

While we tend to think of spring (or my spinter and sprummer) as peak flowering season – which it is – there are always plants in flower in our gardens and the native bushland. In the early 1960s, Doreen Price collated information on 442 garden and native plants growing in northern Sydney and while more than 200 were flowering in spring, nearly 100 of the species had flowers in summer.

Ms Price was gathering information to help treat pollen allergies so the bad news is that there is likely to be pollen around all year. The good news is that in winter only 50 or so species are flowering.

*This Passion for Plants posting will also appear on the ABC Sydney website (under 'Weekends' or search 'gardening'), and is the gist of my 702AM radio interview with Simon Marnie on Saturday morning, between 9-10 am.

Image: A quick snap of the Leather Jacket from my mobile phone from last year.

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